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‘Suffocated’ by traffic: Buckhead residents seek solutions from ATL, ARC, GDOT, etc.

David Pendered
Buckhead is a vibrant business district during the day with many regional attractions at night that keep it bustling after business hours. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Just one number speaks to the reason traffic is again a major topic in Buckhead: The number of vehicles that every day drives along just one street lined with homes compares to almost the entire population of Decatur.

Buckhead is a vibrant business district during the day with many regional attractions at night that keep it bustling after business hours. Credit: David Pendered

Buckhead’s posture with traffic is similar to any community struggling with mobility. The commonality of concern is one reason Buckhead advocates expect to face challenges to be heard in their emerging effort to resolve the entwined issues of mobility and housing costs – the later of which fuels traffic as workers commute from lower-cost areas.

The region has one significant distinction: Buckhead’s business and retail district is fairly isolated from highways, other than Ga. 400. Much of the access from I-75,  I-85 and I-285 is along two-lane streets that pass through residential neighborhoods.

“You can get close, but you can’t quite make it,” Steve Dickerson said Monday of highway access to Buckhead’s business district. Dickerson represents the Buckhead, Central Perimeter and Cumberland/Galleria business districts as the District 3 board member of the ATL, the regional transit agency.

Another of Buckhead’s distinctions is its share of influential residents, including the elected occupant of the governor’s mansion – though there’s no reason to suspect Gov. Brian Kemp has involved himself in traffic congestion near the mansion.

The daily traffic count near the governor’s mansion in 2018 was 20,800 vehicles on a two-lane road with lots of intersections. The vehicles were counted near the intersection West Paces Ferry Road and West Andrews Drive, according to a report by the Georgia Department of Transportation. That compares to Decatur’s estimated population of 25,732 in 2018, according to a report by the Census.

Buckhead homeowners seek relief from mobility issues on neighborhood streets that include more than 14,000 vehicles a day along this stretch of two-lane Habersham Road, which intersects with West Paces Ferry Road and its nearly 21,000 vehicles a day. Credit: David Pendered

Buckhead homeowners, who are working through the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, have been able to present their 18-point Transportation Resolution to agencies and entities that lead the region’s transportation and transit programs. The resolution observes that, “the combined travel of commuter traffic with existing residential traffic is causing Buckhead neighborhoods to be suffocated.”

Recipients include the ATL, the newly constituted regional transit agency; Atlanta Regional Commission, which guides federal transportation spending; Georgia Department of Transportation; MARTA; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees Xpress bus service; Atlanta; Cobb County Transportation Department; and business entities including Buckhead Community Improvement District, Livable Buckhead, and Buckhead Coalition.

As Dickerson observed, the platforms and presentations are a start.

“It’s not necessarily saying any of these will be done,” Dickerson said of his own proposals, which parallel the neighborhood’s ideas. “I brought it to the folks at ATL and they’re starting some of the processes.”

One challenge Buckhead faces is that its expansion into a commercial powerhouse hasn’t been matched by a mobility program. Nonetheless, the distance of Buckhead’s business core from highways hasn’t impeded commercial construction. According to an office space report CBRE provided Monday, the Buckhead submarket ranks fourth in size along the spine of Ga. 400 and the Downtown Connector, including:

  • Central Perimeter – 21.8 million square feet;
  • Buckhead – 15.9 million square feet;
  • Midtown – 17.7 million square feet;
  • Downtown – 17.5 million square feet.
buckhead traffic

Traffic flows are so heavy in Buckhead that the closure of a lane of Peachtree Road at the Buckhead Triangle on Sept. 6 froze the flow of southbound vehicles to a point north of Piedmont Road. File/Credit: David Pendered

Few who work in Buckhead call it home. A full 92 percent of Buckhead workers reside outside the region and 70 percent of all workers drive to work, according to a report this month from Livable Buckhead, which has launched its own effort to address mobility and housing costs.

Mary Norwood, chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, on Monday released the council’s updated mobility platform, Transportation Resolution. She said the platform has one main purpose in terms of mobility in Buckhead.

“We want to make it so that Buckhead is the place where you have the best possible experience to get to work everyday,” Norwood said.

Dickerson said he’s reviewed and approves of each of the council’s 18 recommendations. Dickerson said semblances of the concepts are contained in his own position paper, Solving ATL Congestion, which he said he presented to favorable response from the ATL board.

The council’s platform calls on a total of 10 governments and entities to consider further study of 18 suggestions on three subjects:

  • Provide affordable workforce housing, involving an employer-assistance program;
  • Increase transit options, including greater Xpress bus service;
  • Enhance neighborhoods, to include adopting Vision Zero policies and economic incentives such as congestion pricing and parking taxes.

The congestion pricing idea has generated some negative remarks as an effort to build a wall around Buckhead neighborhoods. The potential fee already has been identified as a possible solution by the Atlanta City Council. The council adopted Jan. 7 a resolution that called on the city’s Planning Department to study “cordon pricing” in a feasibility study that’s to, “address commuter traffic issues in Northwest Atlanta, and for other purposes.”

Nor is the concept new in Atlanta. It stirred a lively debate when promoted some 20 years ago by C.T. Martin and Jim Maddox, when they served on the Atlanta City Council. The issue then involved a source of funding to maintain Downtown streets and bridges.

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Atlanta Resident September 23, 2019 10:38 pm

    Here’s an idea: STOP over building the city. Lots of us like our single family detached neighborhoods much more than
    your 10 to 15 story monoliths. You want to keep building those things explore areas further out Hollowell rather than
    cluttering up Buckhead & Midtown. Enough is enough. Plenty of people like forested areas more than concrete and
    steel. And by all means STOP giving generous tax abatements to encourage more congestion, you’re ruining the city.
    You’re just junking it up. I’ll stand in the rain at a MARTA stop without covering or a place to sit when hell freezes over,
    making transfers and spending most of my life waiting for a bus. I like my car and consider it much safer than public
    transportation. We are not New Yorkers. How much junk can you put in every square acre of this city? This note is for
    you Tim.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Buckhead Resident September 24, 2019 12:02 am

    I agree 110% with EVERYTHING you said! From keeping neighborhoods single family homes, with less concrete, to our cars being easier to get around with, and MUCH safer than MARTA! Thank you for taking the time to say it. Please keep speaking out too. It needs to be heard loud and clear.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Sandy Springs September 24, 2019 3:26 am

    As a bike and Marta commuter, I’m able to halve the time it takes than when I drive to Brookhaven from Sandy Springs. The bike infrastructure has made great strides the past few years with the buildout of Path 400 and additional bike lanes on various streets but could be improved upon on parts of Peachtree where there currently are no lanes for bikes. Making major corridors safer for bikes, scooters, and pedestrians will help get people to switch from being so car dependent and we all will benefit.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Atlanta Transplanted September 24, 2019 3:47 pm

    Ohhhh, the agony. Lol. We want to live in the heart of business district (Buckhead), but don’t want more density or other people driving here. How self absorbed are you? Maybe you should visit other true international locations “not the Caribbean” to see that cars are not the primary mode of transportation. This city lacks infrastructure and it’s all because it’s the “good ole boy south”. “We knows better around these here parts, we ain’t no Yankees” is what some of you sound like. I hope they keep building and building and building, where either you move, or embrace true mass transit infrastructure implementation. May your 2 acre estate off of Peachtree become so clogged with traffic that you sell it and it is subdivided into mix income housing complexes, and all of the god awful surface parking lots become shops and restaurants, where you have no choice but to look for alternative modes of transportation other than cars.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Caleb September 24, 2019 8:40 pm

    To all the commenters saying driving is safer than MARTA…how many people have died or have been involved in a serious accident on Atlanta’s freeways compared to MARTA? Asking for a friend…Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    KENNETH RICHARDSON September 24, 2019 8:45 pm

    A lot of energy goes into weeding out undesirables such as myself. I will never look down on people who have done well for themselves. I applaud you. But as long as you all have a God-given right to your Mercedes and Teslas, the problem will continue. Raise taxes on auto purchases, toll roads (not single Lexus Lanes), and higher fuel taxes will price us out of our cars. But don’t strand us–increase the size and scope of MARTA and get rid of Cobb Transit, Gwinnett, etc. The problem is ours and not of the rest of the state. So use taxes and tolls is your only solution. Not for the rest of the state to pay to fix. Or just keep complaining and trying to find ways to keep rift raft like me out. Whichever. But I’m pretty sure that the heavy traffic is what’s making investment in these areas so attractive to investors anyway.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Atlanta Resident September 25, 2019 12:31 am

    Caleb, When I said driving in my car felt safer than riding MARTA I was referencing in city driving not the harrowing
    experience of driving on the inner states. If I had to grocery shop on MARTA I’d be going to the store 3 X a week &
    taking the dogs to the vet could present difficulties riding public transportation. Perhaps it’s my age or gender but
    I feel vulnerable standing out on the street waiting for a bus especially after dark & I don’t wish to live like I’m under a
    curfew.Report

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Smyrna Resident September 26, 2019 7:45 am

    Let’s be realistic. I have worked in Buckhead for various companies since 1991. I have lived in Emory/Decatur area, Vinings and Smyrna. I don’t want to live in Buckhead and have no desire to live there no matter how “affordable” the cost. My current commute is 13 miles one way on surface streets, while not great, I enjoy where I live. I live close to the Silver Comet Trail, but I am never going to take the trail, once it connects to the Beltline and the Beltline connects to Path 400 to work. I am also never riding a commuter bus to Midtown to transfer to a train. I would consider a train from the Smyrna/Cumberland area along 285 to the Dunwoody Marta station transferring to a train headed south to Buckhead.Report

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    O4W September 27, 2019 9:14 am

    @Nomas

    Who is “they?”Report

    Reply
  10. Avatar
    Chin lee October 2, 2019 12:00 am

    If u get rid of the ghetto hood rats, the entire area would be fine and once again a nice high end Place to live. And there would not be so much traffic because the ones “out of the woodwork” would not be coming into Buckhead , trying to be around the low life ball players and rappers.Report

    Reply

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